Exclusive Interview! Robin Robins Spills The Tea About Her Upcoming IT Sales And Marketing Boot Camp

TMT’s 17th Annual IT Sales and Marketing Boot Camp is coming up on April 2nd in Nashville, where more than 1,200 MSPs will convene to learn how to turbocharge their businesses. TMT’s founder and CEO, Robin Robins, who is also the founder and CEO of MSP Success, agreed to give us a bit of a preview of what MSP attendees will learn. She also offered some thoughts on the latest industry news and trends that MSPs need to know about. This is an edited and condensed version of that interview. To hear the whole conversation, click on the video above.

MSP Success: There are more than 200 channel conferences every year now. What will MSPs take away from a Boot Camp experience that they just can’t get from any other conference?

Robin Robins: We are the only conference that is 100% focused on making you a better entrepreneur. This year I’m going to be focusing on extreme productivity/entrepreneurial productivity—not just how do you get more things done, but how do you become a very effective CEO to grow your business. What makes our conference so unique is [we teach you] how to build more enterprise value: How to generate more profits, more stability with better customers, not just more customers, and really nail being that CEO.

MSP Success: Speaking of growth, 2023 was a good year for MSPs and projections look good for 2024 too, yet there are still uncertainties in the global economy. One thing that our recent MSP Success reader survey identified as keeping MSPs up at night was customer acquisition. What are some strategies that MSPs can use to fight for customers this year?

Robins: Customer acquisition is a perennial problem for every business. If you’re an MSP, customer acquisition becomes more difficult because in order for you to get a customer, somebody else has to lose a customer. And in general, MSPs do not churn their customers. Last year the average MSP acquired about 11 new customers, churned four and netted seven. Our members tend to skew a little bit higher, but in general, it’s very slow growth. Most of them are getting [customers] through word of mouth and referrals. They’re not doing any kind of active marketing. They don’t have a sales department. The main focus of our conference every year is how do you get more new customers. In good years, in bad years, you’re always going to have this [challenge].

And yes, MSPs right now are sitting on a gold mine because even though not every industry is thriving, the MSP industry [is], because more companies are becoming digitally transformed. So that’s one thing. The other is cybersecurity. Even small business owners are starting to wake up and realize they need something. Even upstream, you have that middle market outsourcing at least the security piece and working with MSPs. We’re seeing a lot of our members pick up in those areas. So the opportunity is great, but because there’s great opportunity, of course, there’s going to be great competition.

MSP Success: At Boot Camp, the top five finalists in your annual Better Your Best contest will be presenting how they achieved significant revenue and profit growth this year. What are some attributes that they have in common that make them so successful?

Robins: They’ll all tell you it’s a decision they made to grow. They decided, “I’m not just going to hang out and wait for a referral to come in. I’m actually going to implement a marketing plan to get new customers.” They have a CRM system. They’re doing list building, they’re drip marketing, they’re lead generating in all different ways, from social media, to search engine optimization to direct mail with a sales development rep calling, to networking events, and obviously referrals. There’s no silver bullet that if I just do this one thing, I’m going to get all the customers I want. The one thing is really a commitment and decision to invest time and effort to focus on new client acquisition.

MSP Success: A big theme for 2023 was, of course, artificial intelligence. What are you hearing from MSPs about how they’re using AI today?

Robins: Every industry loves a shiny new penny, and that’s not to dismiss it, but just to say there are always going to be the next biggest, coolest, innovative technology tools. These are game changing in the moment, but the problem is everybody eventually catches up with the tech. What I would suggest to people is not to chase the shiny penny, because at the end of the day, it still is going to come down to fundamentals about customer service, marketing, sales, understanding your P&L, getting your people to be productive. And then if you have the right people on the team, you can buy AI tools and use them. But the people who consistently win in every era—whatever the new tech is—are focused on the fundamentals of running a business, of being a great entrepreneur.

MSP Success: If not a shiny penny, certainly another trend has been M&A. While M&A has slowed down from the frenzy that it was a few years ago, if an MSP is thinking about selling, what should they be doing right now?

Robins: When M&A was going really hot right after 2020, we saw a lot of our customers sell. Some of them sold for a great multiple and had an exciting exit, or they rolled up into a bigger play. They’re happy; this was a good move.

I have also seen a lot of MSPs sell too soon because they’re burned out. They do not have an exciting exit because then they have to take a job or find a way to make some income. If you’re thinking of selling, you’ve got to get educated about what the buyers are looking for from recurring revenue, from contracts, from client base, from multiples of EBITDA. You also have to understand your safe harbor number—how much money you need to be financially stable, without debt.

If your business is struggling, it’s the worst time to sell. So, rally yourself. Come to events like our Boot Camp. Get around people who are winning and get yourself out of it. You need three to five years to plan and get the things in place so that you can have a great exit.

MSP Success: Let’s look at the other end of the spectrum. If you’re a smaller MSP, what should you be doing to compete with larger, PE-backed MSPs?

Robins: I don’t think it’s as tough as you think. These bigger MSPs are not looking for the guy who wants to spend $800 a month. They’re going to hunt bigger customers. As long as you’re not hunting bigger customers, you probably won’t bump into where the bigger MSPs are.

My members who are doing north of $3 to $10 million a year, they’re starting to creep up into those other guys’ territories. That is a challenge because the story of the bigger MSP is, “Hey, we have more resources. We’re more operationally mature than these small guys.”

But the smaller guys [can respond], “You could go work with these big, private equity-backed MSPs but they’re not going to treat you like their No. 1 one customer. We’re going to treat you like our No. 1 customer.” You can always spin the story.

The big guys, by the way, have the same problems with new customer acquisition as the small guys. They do have more resources, so that’s their advantage. The advantage smaller MSPs have is you can be nimble, you can be niched, you can have personality, you can do things that they can’t and won’t do. But you still need to be strategic about new client acquisition, marketing, branding, and awareness in the marketplace.

MSP Success: One of your keynote speakers at Boot Camp is going to be Dr. Jordan Peterson. What are you hoping your audience can learn from him and your other keynoters?

Robins: Several years ago I heard Dr. Peterson say that taking on responsibility gives your life meaning. When we, as business owners, are taking on responsibility, we’re taking on responsibility for ourselves and our family, but our employees and our customers as well. And that gives our life meaning. The other thing he said that struck home with me is that life is suffering, and that if you get happiness along the way, be delighted by that. But happiness shouldn’t be your goal in life. Meaning and purpose should be. I know he’s a very politically controversial person, but we’re not going to have a conversation about politics. I want to have a conversation about his book, 12 Rules for Life and how to have a purpose-driven life.

We’ve also got my good friend Mike Michalowicz, who will be speaking about his new book All In, which is about getting your employees on board. Don Miller of StoryBrand will be talking about how to differentiate through storytelling in your marketing. And we have Clate Mask, the CEO of Keap, who’s going to be talking about conquering the chaos, which is a recurring theme for everybody growing a business. It’s going to be great. We will definitely sell out every seat, but there is a virtual option so nobody gets shut out.

MSP Success: Before we wrap up, the big story in the channel in February was the ConnectWise ScreenConnect security vulnerabilities. This fell on the heels of the FBI director saying that China’s cyberattacks are at an unprecedented scale, and then we had the AT&T tower taken out, which is rumored, although not proven, to be a cyberattack. What’s your take on all of this?

Robins: It’s no surprise to anybody that we’re seeing cyberattacks become more and more aggressive. In the channel, what’s going on with ConnectWise, it’s happened to other vendors in the past; it’s going to happen again. MSPs have to think about this from their own personal risk—insurance, good contracts, making sure you’re doing everything you should be doing to be protected, and lock down your environment, because we all know it’s a matter of when, not if.

MSPs should be using this as an opportunity to talk to their customers and prospects, to let them know that you’re on top of these things. MSPs should have been reaching out to local news outlets saying, “Do you want to know my take from inside the industry?” There’s all these angles that MSPs could be using, and they just didn’t see it. I think that’s a missed opportunity.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colleen Frye

Colleen Frye

Colleen Frye is executive editor of MSP Success. A veteran of the B2B publishing industry, she has been covering the channel for the last 17 years.
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